On May 23, 2018, Governor Eric Holcomb signed Senate Enrolled Act 126, establishing a fourth superior court in Kosciusko County, effective July 1, 2019.
On April 11, Chris Kehler was sitting at his desk when his cellphone started ringing.
“It was a 317 phone number that I didn’t recognize, and what do you do with spam? You don’t answer. I answered and it was the coolest four minutes of a conversation with Governor Holcomb,” Kehler said.
Kehler was speaking to a filled circuit courtroom in the old courthouse Tuesday afternoon where he was officially sworn in as judge of Kosciusko Superior Court IV.
Kehler was appointed by the governor after a long application and selection process. He will have to run for office of his new court in 2020, however, and he told the room he fully intends to do so.
Kehler is a 1980 graduate of Warsaw Community High School, who majored in philosophy at Franklin College and graduated from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1987. He’s been practicing law in Warsaw since then and has been working to close his private practice, Kehler Law Firm PC in downtown Warsaw, after being appointed judge.
Superior Court IV begins operating with a full docket Monday.
Superior Court I Judge David Cates said the new court will primarily handle domestic and civil cases, including major civil cases. No criminal or juvenile cases are expected to be handled in Superior IV, at least initially, Cates said, adding he expects the additional court will help increase case efficiency by 25%.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Reed gave the room a history lesson on the court system in Kosciusko County before swearing Kehler in.
The first court was established in the county in 1836 and was held in Levi Lee’s home in Leesburg, he said.
“It started before there was even a courthouse,” Reed said, adding the courthouse came about a year later.
Until 1969, Kosciusko County had only one court.
“How lucky we are to live in a country where there are courts and laws and the courts are always open,” Reed said.
In 1969, the county got a second court in Superior Court, and added a county court in 1976, Reed said. The current court arrangement came about in 1997 when Superior III was added, he said, and county court went to Superior II. “And it will be that way until July first.”
Both Cates and Reed said they have known and worked with Kehler for a long time and trust he will do a great job as a judge.
Kehler thanked his family, especially his wife and daughters, who he said has put up with him during the judicial application process.
“I never expected this,” Kehler said. “I’m excited. It means a lot.”
And then he invited everyone to walk a block down to Mad Anthony’s to celebrate.